MIAMI — The journey, it is said, is half the fun. Thus I found myself at Dubai International Airport very early on a Saturday morning, prepping to head back to Seattle – via Amsterdam and Paris. This unnecessary journey, hours out of the way, came about when it occurred to me that KLM flies the MD-11, an airplane quickly on its way out of service, from this desert oasis to Amsterdam. Realizing it might be the only shot I’d have to get on one, a ticket was booked (via Delta), and an adventure set to begin.
Dubai’s airport is enormous, but the check-in counters are separated from the departure/arrival terminals. The process was quick and easy thanks to being ticketed in World Class, KLM’s business class cabin. A checked bag disappeared down the belt, my ticket printed, and off I went on the long walk to the lounge.
KLM’s Crown Lounge in Dubai is a relatively muted affair, consisting of a mid-sized room outfitted with comfy chairs, a modest food tray, and a few TVs. It was nice, in a cozy sense, though clearly not the signature lounges found in the carrier’s major hubs. Several glasses of water, a browse of my email on the free WiFi, and a few finger snacks later it was off to the gate.
Thanks to a World Class ticket, boarding took no time at all. I settled into seat 5J, located on the right-hand side of the airplane in the rear premium cabin. The location is enclosed by a bulkhead both fore and aft, and is misaligned between center rows 5 and 6, leading to a very private feel. The remainder of the cabin is a 2-3 setup, while the front cabin is 2-2-2. Bags found a quick place overhead while preflight glasses of water and orange juice were offered.
Departure was on time as the airplane rocketed, seemingly literally, out of a warm Dubai. A big left-hand turn set our direction to the northwest, towards Amsterdam, and off we went.
A breakfast service began shortly after departure. The choice was between pancakes with mixed berries, and poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce. Pancakes won out the day, complimented with pineapple compote, roll, fruit salad, and a selection of cheese and cold cuts. Unfortunately, hindsight quickly showed the eggs were likely the better choice. While the middle of the pancakes tasted great, the edges were tough and rubbery in texture, probably a product of a warming microwave. The rest of the meal was great, in particular the pineapple compote.
Settling in for the rest of the six hour, thirty minute flight, it was time to play with the seat. Two generations removed from its current flagship product, the pod-like seat shows its age. For one, it’s an angled lie flat, bottoming out at 150 degrees of recline and 60 degrees of pitch. The inflight entertainment system was on the small size, and its graphics a bit dated.
Yet appearances can be deceiving. While the seat might be getting along in age, it was perfectly clean and perfectly comfortable; essentially a flying, customizable Lazy-Boy. A working power port, something that seems to frequently fail on much newer premium products, worked flawlessly. And while the interface graphics and screen resolution on the IFE were less than impressive, it was well stocked and played movies (such as Argo) and TV shows without issue. An intuitive tethered remote controlled the system.
Following a movie I took the opportunity for a short nap before a light meal was served. The tray held a number of enticing items: baba-ghanooush, humus and red bell pepper stuffed with cheese, Waldorf salad, chicken teriyaki skewer and beef kibbeh, and a passion fruit mousse with blueberries. Unlike the earlier meal, which was a bit disappointing, this sampler-like meal was truly excellent.
Not long after the second meal service had wrapped up we were on final approach to Amsterdam. The airplane landed on time, followed by a long taxi not uncommon to the sprawling airport. I was off the plane in short order and ushered into the terminal, ready for my connection to Paris.
Overall, good, but not overly impressive. The food was tasty, though held back from above average only by the tough pancakes. The flight crew kept a close, but not imposing, eye on the cabin throughout the flight with a generally dispassionate disposition. The cute little Delft Canal house souvenirs make a wonderful parting gift, even if I somehow didn’t realize it was full of liquor until nearly six months later.
The product, however, was a bit long in the tooth. The angled lie-flat product might have been top of the line when it came out several years back, but it’s long been replaced by generously-sized true lie flats on many airlines, including KLM. Likewise, the IFE system wasn’t top of the line either, occasionally showing its age in response times and graphics quality.
That isn’t to say that the experience with the product was bad (it certainly wasn’t); it was just noticeable that it wasn’t the carrier’s latest and greatest. For a day flight it really didn’t make any difference: comfortable enough for a good nap (like a Lazy-Boy), movies played fine, etc. A night flight would likely be different, with the lie-flat seats found on the carrier’s other widebodies probably being much preferred by frequent premium travelers. If you find yourself on it, seats 5G & J come highly recommend as both of occupy their own cloistered mini cabin. Seats 5 & 6E, being middles, should be avoided.
But let’s be honest, this was mostly about having an opportunity to fly aboard an MD-11 while the party lasts. To that end, it fit the bill perfectly. A robust departure with one seriously impressive attack angle, gazing out the enormous windows, a visit to the flight deck (on the ground), and even a free safety-card souvenir (crew-approved) made for a truly wonderful experience.
But as any av-geek knows the MD-11’s days are quickly drawing to a close. KLM plans to retire its four remaining jets, the last in the world, later this year. Get ‘em while you can; you won’t regret it.
As for World Class, we enjoyed it. But we think we’d enjoy the experience on one of the carrier’s Boeing 747s or 777s even more.
Have you flown it? Tell us about it in the comments!